Your smile is often the first thing people notice about you, whether as a first impression or afterward. While none of us can change our genetic makeup, which affects such factors as tooth size, shape, sheen and color, your daily habits can make a big difference in the quality of your smile. In addition, there are some cosmetic treatments that can help with smile care.
Why Teeth Become Stained
Toddlers and young children really do have pearly white teeth, but as we age, our teeth often become yellowed or stained. Yellowing occurs because the enamel of the tooth wears over time, allowing the underlayer – a yellowish material called dentin – to show through.
What you eat can also affect the color of your teeth, as some foods and beverages will stain the enamel. Medical treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause enamel stains, and some medications – most notably an antibiotic called tetracycline – will also stain teeth. An injury may also result in a dark spot on the enamel.
Brightening up those pearly whites can be done at home or at the dentist's office. At-home treatments use hydrogen peroxide, while your dentist usually uses a stronger version called carbamide. Both can whiten the teeth, reduce yellowing and remove some stains. At-home treatments aren't quite as strong, and may not get rid of deep or dark stains.
You can buy a product over the counter or get one from your dentist. The dental version of the at-home kit is a bit stronger than the over-the-counter version, and both are less expensive than a professional whitening treatment. Regular use of a whitening toothpaste in addition to these more complex treatments can help maintain your brighter smile.
What you eat and drink can make a difference as far as your smile is concerned – both from the perspective of your overall dental health and the whiteness of your teeth. Beverages like coffee,red wine and tea are known to stain teeth. Tomatoes are acidic, bright red and tend to cling to the teeth – all of which make them likely to stain. Curry, a favorite spice of East Indian cooks, can also discolor teeth. The dark color of balsamic vinegar is another source of dark teeth. Blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and blackberries are great for your health, but the same anthocyanins that make them healthy also tend to discolor your teeth. You can help mitigate the effects of these food stains by eating foods that help coat and protect the teeth – like dark green veggies or salads – or other stain-preventing foods like apples, carrots, cauliflower and celery.
Sometimes a bright smile is as much a matter (or even more) of what you don't do. For example, tobacco is notable for staining teeth. That's tobacco in any form, whether you smoke it or chew it. Then there's the little matter of your oral health (like preventing cancer). To keep your smile white, bright and healthy, stay away from tobacco. Another source of stained teeth is from substances called chromogens.
Coffee, tea and red wine all contain these compounds, which can make your teeth noticeably darker. Sports drinks and soft drinks can also cause stains, and they are high in acids, which wear away enamel and allow stains to get into the deeper tooth layers. If you choose to drink these beverages, brush your teeth immediately, or at least rinse with water after you finish sipping.
There are few things as important to the health of your teeth as regular preventive care. However, these smile care practices also affect the quality and brightness of your smile. Daily flossing and twice daily brushing keep food particles and plaque from causing cavities. The gentle friction from brushing also helps keep your teeth clean and shiny. Twice-yearly professional cleaning includes polishing and tartar removal, which also improve the quality of your smile.
Sometimes you have to take additional steps for smile care. If that's the case, consider veneers. These ultra-thin resin composite or porcelain shells are bonded directly to the front of the tooth and can cover even the worst of stains. They can also be used to correct the shape of a tooth that is uneven or to fill a noticeable gap between your front teeth. Veneers take several dental visits, as they must be custom-made and attached for best effect, but they can make a dramatic difference.
Smile care take a little effort. However, most of the suggestions here will also help improve your oral health, which is one of the most important aspects of routine and cosmetic dentistry. Make some changes in your daily habits, and the next time someone says “Say cheese,” you'll be able to give them a terrific white smile.